Bully (18)

Review by Simon Bell

ELFRIEDE Jelinek’s grisly Die Klavierspielerin, the Austrian novel from 1983 on which Michael Haneke’s emotionally devastating latest offering is based, refused to justify or even explain the motivations of its middle-aged female protagonist. Transferred to celluloid the emptiness is again favoured over explication.

It centres on Vienna Conservatoire professor of music Erika Kohut, sexually repressed by a possessive mother despite pushing 40 and so emotionally stunted that she resorts to hardcore porn, dangerous voyeurism and self-mutilation for her acquaintance with the erotic. Still unable to respond, she becomes obsessively embroiled with a lovelorn pupil who engages her in a frustrated game of painful power play.

Isabelle Huppert as Erika - a slave to her murky impulses and self-destructive neuroses - shows she’s lost nothing since her turn in Claude Goretta’s often studied masterpiece "The Lacemaker" (1977). Her opposite number and prince charming Walter (Benoit Magimel), meanwhile, conveys a cool cruelty before slipping into the psychotic.

Haneke hopes to leave his viewing public unsettled, if not disturbed, right until the baffling final reel. But however cold and frustrating it may appear on the surface, it should finally leave none untouched.

Some have dubbed it nothing more than arthouse pornography, while others have bestowed it with comparisons to Ken Russell’s filthy fuck-flicks.

And if that isn’t recommendation enough, it also picked up the Best Actress, Best Actor and Grand Jury Prizes in Cannes.